Engendering citizenship
Engendering citizenship

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Engendering citizenship

1 Engendering citizenship

1.1 Engendering citizenship: the notion of social citizenship

Mary Langan talks with Professor Ruth Lister, Professor Fiona Williams, Helen Meekosha and Dr Madeleine Arnot about the notion of social citizenship in relation to the rights and obligations within society, with particular reference to women and disabled people.

Participants in the audio programme were:

  • Mary Langan Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at The Open University;

  • Ruth Lister Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University;

  • Helen Meekosha a leading campaigner for the rights of disabled people in Australia;

  • Fiona Williams Professor of Social Policy at Leeds University;

  • Madeleine Arnot Professor of Sociology in education at Cambridge University.

Activity 1

Listen to the audio file. You may find it helpful to listen to the recording a second time and take notes that help define the ideas of social citizenship.

Engendering citizenship part 1 (12.5 minutes 5 MB)

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Transcript: Engendering citizenship part 1

Mary Langan
We are going to look at citizenship, not citizenship just in the legal sense, but the idea of social citizenship of rights and obligations within society. In D218 we have tried to show that the notion of citizenship is very important, it’s discussed particularly in Books One and Five. Recently I was able to meet and talk to several women involved in looking at different aspects of citizenship at a conference on citizenship and women. I asked Professor Ruth Lister why is citizenship such an important concept for women and for other groups?
Prof. Ruth Lister
At a very basic level citizenship is about membership of a community and it’s about the rights and obligations that flow from that membership and it’s a very useful way of looking at and campaigning around women’s exclusions from full citizenship, full membership and the way women’s rights are still undermined.
But there is also another tradition of citizenship, which is about participation, obligations, and in particular political participation, as a form of obligation, and I think that is important for women also because it’s a way of constructing women as actors and not just passive victims of discriminatory processes and structures.
So we can see citizenship in a sense both as a process in which women although often invisibly are very much involved and as an outcome which women and other disadvantaged groups are still struggling for in terms of full substantive citizenship as opposed to necessarily formal rights of citizenship. The question of formal citizenship rights is also important in the context of migrants’ asylum seekers and so forth and in that context that is one of the reasons why it has become a very important issue again.
Ruth Lister talks about citizenship in relation to membership of a community, but are we all equal in the community? In recent years there have been many challenges to the idea of universal citizenship, the idea that we are all equal before the law, but what about our access to the social benefits of welfare provision for example. There are those who claim that some groups enjoy status, powers, privileges and material resources while others do not. This is called the politics of difference by many women’s groups, gay and lesbian groups, minority ethnic groups, and the disabilities movement, but there is by no means agreement on this issue.
Professor Fiona Williams.
Prof. Fiona Williams
The fact that the development of politics and the development of critiques of politics from say feminism, from racialised and ethnic minority groups, from sexualised minorities, from the disability movement, that the politics of all of that, the politics that some people call the politics of difference, has actually fragmented social movements alongside the fragmentation of class anyway, right that class movements no longer have the power that they used to have, the trade unions no longer have the power that they used to have. Alongside that there has been some fragmentation of those social movements, which were gaining power from the late 60s.
In this situation what has happened is that people have begun to recognise difference a lot more. In that recognition of difference what has seemed to be slipping away is any idea of unity, solidarity, commonality, the very process by which you are made stronger in your struggle for rights and what I think that citizenship enables people to think about is to have a concept which on the one hand seems to embrace everybody, but to have a concept that allows us to talk about difference as well.
And therefore the critique that is emerging around citizenship is precisely the critique of modern politics which is how can you at one and the same time talk about equality and also difference, talk about universalism and also diversity.
How can you talk about a politics which is about redistribution, redistribution of materials and resources as well as a politics which is about recognising people’s rights to their individual culture and so on and so forth.
What does Fiona Williams see as the consequences of this new critical look at citizenship?
What citizenship denotes is membership of a community and what the new critical look at citizenship enables us to do is first of all interrogate that notion of community, how far is this a real community or actually an imagined community, what does it mean to be British, how real is that and how imagined is that, that is one thing.
The second thing that we can do is actually look at and unpick that notion of membership, not only who is included and who is excluded from this community, so to give you an example the rules around nationality have changed significantly since the 1950s to exclude certain groups of people from the former colonies who previously were included. So we can look at who is included and who is excluded but we can also look at who is included formally in a notion of membership of that community, but actually when it comes to securing their rights, they don’t get the rights presumed to go to everybody.
There is one group that feels particularly excluded from the benefits of full citizenship, Helen Meekosha is a disabled woman from Australia and a leading campaigner for the rights of disabled people.
Helen Meekosha
People with disabilities haven’t really been constituted as citizens at all. I like to use the word that it is beyond the public imaging, it is beyond the public imagination. They are not fully participating members of our society, they are not part of any powerful groups, they are not visible simply. Whilst many indigenous peoples like from Australia where I come from, indigenous Australians, Aboriginal Australians didn’t get the vote until 1967. In many ways people aren’t even aware that there are large numbers of disabled people who don’t have the vote now and that’s not simply a question of access to voting booths, its about understanding the political process. If you are a person with a severe learning disability, what part are you playing in electing your representatives? So that is a political right, that’s a citizenship right, which hasn’t been dreamt of yet about how we might reorganise our society, which includes those sorts of people.
In the debates around citizenship I feel that the disability and disabled people are neglected, yet the language and imagery of citizenship is imbued with a notion of normalcy. We talk of upright and upstanding citizens, we stand to attention at the playing of the National Anthem, and in America of course we salute the flag. So we have this notion of the good citizen as embodied, as male, usually white, active, fit and able, in effect in complete contrast to what is seen as an unvalued, inactive, perceived inactive, disabled other. Disability is always a marginalized said status in our society, one that is often described in negative and offensive languages and language. People who are blind or deaf and so on, this is a term of abuse.
So can citizenship be a useful concept for disabled people to use? Helen Meekosha again.
Citizenship is useful as a political organising tool. People with disabilities worldwide have demanded citizenship rights which is not rights to settle in a country as in the traditional notion of citizenship, but rights within a country for basic human rights. They have demanded rights to transport, to education, to employment, they have demanded rights for the law to protect them from discrimination. We contribute to society, we have been described, we have been only imagined as receiving, as passive but we contribute and furthermore we demand to be involved in all the basic institutions of our society and so citizenship has been useful as an organising tool. It worries me that conceptually trying to understand a fairer and more just society, citizenship might not work for all disabled people and for all women.
There is an issue about now we have legislation, we have inclusion, we have in Britain we have legislation apparently protecting people with disabilities, in America too, in Australia too, so most Western countries are introducing legislation. We are apparently included, we see little wheelchair symbols everywhere. We are actually excluded continually, simply there are no resources, there are no people to monitor the legislation, there is no people to ensure that people with disabilities. We are sitting in a building in a university in London where it is impossible to get a wheelchair through the doors of most of the rooms. There are no facilities for people with hearing impairments, or visual impairments. I have a right to come here as an academic, as a student, but I cannot get in.
Helen Meekosha fears that even with legislation, citizenship cannot deal with all the differences among disabled people and women. Whereas Ruth Lister, while not underestimating the difficulties, thinks a radical approach to citizenship can promote equality for all.
End transcript: Engendering citizenship part 1
Engendering citizenship part 1
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Engendering citizenship part 2 (10.5 minutes 6 MB)

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Transcript: Engendering citizenship part 2

Another dilemma that citizenship theorists face is, citizenship is, in a sense, quintessentially a universalist concept, that it is about equal status or at least universalistic within the bounds of a nation state, and that we have equal status against this kind of yard stick for us all. And therefore some people argue that it is not a concept we should be using these days because…not because we shouldn’t all have equal status, but because it promotes what has been called a false universalism that ignores that there are differences between us. Differences that we, not the differences of poverty and so forth that we want to erase, but differences that are important to people, differences between women and men, differences between ethnic groups, differences between disabled people and non disabled people, differences of age and sexuality, and I think part of the what we might call the project of a radical approach to citizenship is to try and build into this universalist concept, a notion of difference.
Now it is difficult to do and a number of us are struggling with it at present, so I haven’t got an easy answer for you, but I think it is partly about trying to break down the kind of way we think in dichotomies that either it has to be universalist or it has to be about particularists and each group being different. We have to find ways that we can transcend these dichotomies and bring the two together.
I asked Ruth Lister what she felt were the differences between men and women in relation to citizenship.
One of the dilemmas in thinking about citizenship for women is do women want to claim their rights as citizens as ‘equals’ with men or as ‘different’ from men. Now I am not using the sense ‘different’ in some essentialist sense that biological differences make all sorts of other differences, but that because of the sexual division of labour women still have a domestic role that men by and large don’t have which constructs the contours of their citizenship and it’s a role that many feminists would argue we should not devalue.
We shouldn’t say that the answer is simply to get women into the labour market to be like men, you know and not worry about the issue of care because care in itself is important. I mean care takes place in the public and the private sphere, paid in the public sphere, unpaid in the private by and large. So there are some that would argue that we have got citizen the carer and citizen the worker. Citizen the worker is privileged when it comes to social security rights and so forth, citizen the carer does very badly. So what do we do about that? There are some people who would argue the answer is to pay citizen the carer as if it were paid work and that is the only way of valuing it, but the problem is if you do that the danger is that you then cement the sexual division of labour because being realistic you are never going to pay citizen the carer the same sort of wage rates that citizen the worker is getting, even probably citizen the low paid worker. So it will continue to be women who are citizens the carers, perhaps even more locked into the private sphere than they have been in the past, or they are at present.
But I think part of the answer does go back to this question of trying to shift the sexual division of labour itself so that everyone has a citizen the carer and everyone has a citizen the worker and you have the opportunity to combine the two and that goes again back to social policy issues about ‘what are now called family friendly employment policies’ that make it easier for both women and men to combine paid work. Family responsibilities not just the care of children, but also increasingly important the care of older people.
As you have seen while you have been studying D218, Marshall has identified social policy as the critical mechanism for promoting equal rights; he calls it the social rights of citizenship.
As Ruth Lister shows it’s often women whose rights are compromised as citizens.
I think social policy plays a crucial role in thinking about citizenship and it’s very important that political theorists ground their theories in social policy and examples range right across the social policy field. I mean a very simple one, which I found my students were quite surprised by, but very interested by, was the question of public transport, they hadn’t thought of that as a woman’s issue. But when I gave them some reading around the, you know, A) that women have less access to private transport, when they thought about their own lives, about sometimes being afraid to go out at night on your own, waiting at dark bus stops and so forth. So if you don’t have access like that it is actually making it harder for women to be fully participating in the public sphere, which is where citizenship is traditionally seen to lie in its active sense. Also women’s access, say women with children, their access to public transport, which is again a parallel issue for disabled people. So questions of access in that way, social policy is crucial.
The women’s position in the labour market, in modern days it has been said that whereas in the past military service was the key to citizenship, today its paid employment and it is a key to citizenship in the sense that in most countries many social rights through the benefits system are tied to employment status. So if you don’t have full employment status in terms of a wage earning record that has bought you contributions for the social security system, then you are outside that core contributory benefit system, and either have to end up relying on means tested benefits or relying on a working partner, and that in my view is incompatible with full citizenship, that you are not able to earn your own rights to social security benefits.
If you look at Scandinavia it is an explicit goal of public policy to try and shift the sexual division of labour within the family. So for instance parental leave in one or two Scandinavian countries there is now a month of that that is reserved for fathers. If the father doesn’t take it, you lose it altogether, and that has been a deliberate attempt to get men more engaged in the business of child-rearing in the hope that they will then do more later on as well.
There are a whole range of ways that social policy underpins women’s citizenship and it goes back to T. H. Marshall’s notion of the Political, Civil and Social Rights and of course social policy is quintessential about the social rights, but those three sets of rights aren’t separate they all interlink, and in some ways it is the social rights that have to underpin the others.
Ruth Lister. Another important area of social policy in relation to people’s rights as citizens is education as you have seen in Book two. I talked to Professor Madeleine Arnot about education and citizenship.
Prof Madeleine Arnot
They say that the education system, the educational institutions are the modernist project par excellence, they actually capture the nature of the modern society by saying that they are training the modern citizen, the modern worker and it is this notion of training the citizen is precisely what the state education system was all about. You set minimum standards, as somebody was saying minimum competencies and what you want the citizen to have. You also have notions of ethical virtues of values of rules of conduct that you already have built into the education system. So the whole project is about education of the citizen. That then leads into the choice of curriculum, the approach that you take in history, in English literature. You are teaching all sorts of principles and rules about the citizen through the content of the curriculum.
So we are already learning what it is like to grow up in Britain, be part of British society at every point in the school system. It is not something that is outside of it, it is what it was there for, its one of its tasks is to create social order. What we haven’t done very often is make that explicit, it has now become much more implicit in our culture and in the forms of knowledge that we teach, but that is why we have had so much contestation about how do you teach British history, how to…whether you should teach Shakespeare, whether you should teach Englishness, or whether you should teach something that’s more international.
So education has a role in creating the modern citizen, but what does this mean for women, does education have a role in addressing their different life opportunities? Madeleine Arnot again.
You have to be conscious that you have to be aware of differences between women, that women experience citizenship rights differently, they experience participation differently, and therefore you can use it as a concept, as a vehicle to explore difference. You can also analyse classrooms in terms of the construction of difference between different sets of pupils by ethnicity, by age, by social class.
So you could either do it through the analysis of the processes of construction of difference, and how those differences emerge, or you could do it through a political education that actually makes those differences explicit and then you start working with it and for example if you take the slogan that they use in Denmark about equal valuing of difference, if there is an argument that if you make the differences explicit rather than hide them, you can actually then start to learn how to value them equally, but that means really finding strategies for teaching that articulate difference rather than pretending they don’t exist.
Madeleine Arnot. Citizenship as a notion has produced a rallying cry for different pressure groups to focus on and has led policy makers to begin to acknowledge and take account of equal rights for all citizens. Helen Meekosha.
One of the most exciting things for disabled people has been the growing rise of the disability movement both in the UK, the US, Australia and indeed across the world. And many of the new – not new rights, but many of the breaking down the barriers, have been occasioned by people taking to the streets, by lobbying, by organising themselves. In Britain I think one of the most powerful and impressive social movements is the disability movement.
There are issues of course for women in any social movement, issues about women not necessarily being at the forefront, issues about women doing the background organising work and not taking the power and learning to negotiate and lobby at the head of the movement if you like. Nevertheless women have been extraordinarily successful in the UK. As an Australian I watch with wonder as the disability action network organised around the country chaining themselves to buses and trains, and doing terribly brave things. Blind women, women with hearing impairments, women using wheelchairs, have taken on the forces of the law in order to get their rights.
Professor Ruth Lister is also excited by the growing pressure from women in Europe.
We are seeing on the one hand women tending to be more active citizens at the very local level, but also now being citizens at the global level through networking around United Nations conferences and so forth and international alliances around home working and things like that, but still somehow we get lost in many countries at the national level in between.
Similarly at European Union level, I think women have made quite an impact and gender issues are very much on the agenda of the European Union. I think too much of sort of still constructing women as a homogenous group and not taking adequate account of the needs of minority group women, migrant women and so forth, but at least because equal opportunities between women and men is part and parcel of the remit of the European Commission, it has I think given – well it certainly in the UK and many other member states, it has enhanced women’s rights as citizens.
End transcript: Engendering citizenship part 2
Engendering citizenship part 2
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